The Runaways could have been a great film. The story contains all the requisite elements. Five beautiful teenagers were exploited by a manipulative producer and the music industry. Despite their ill treatment, they defied feminine stereotypes, gained fame and created half-way decent music, all before their 16th birthday.
Italian director Floria Sigismondi could have explored the profound psychological trauma exacted on Cherie Currie, the band's abused lead singer. She might have examined in actual depth how the girls were mistreated by their handlers and insulted and disrespected by the 1970s media and music industries. For a more positive spin on things, Sigismondi could have delved into the personalities of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. Ultimately, she settled on making a stylish, but sanitized rock biopic.
Sigismondi does focus some attention on sexism and exploitation. Savvy producer Kim Fowley put the band together, rightly suspecting that a pack of braless jailbait rockers would cause a stir. He initially approached Cherie Currie (played by 15-year-old Dakota Fanning) not after hearing her sing, but because he spotted her in a club and determined that her bombshell good looks had marketing potential. Fowley screams at the girls throughout the film, referring to them as his property or calling them horrible anatomical names. Sigismondi also pays close attention to the lyrics of the film's songs, illustrating a sad contradiction. The Runaways proved that girls could rock as hard as the guys, but in order to "make it" they had to wear corsets and skanky getups and sing naughty songs about their nascent sexual desires.